Brew, food, fashion, bikes – what do these have in common? They are all part of Portland’s emerging artisan economy. Other cities have their bohemian districts, but Portland stands alone as an urban economy that has broadly embraced the artisan approach to living and working.
The Artisan Economy Initiative is an extension of research that was first published in Brew to Bikes: Portland’s Artisan Economy. Rich in detail and also theory, Brew to Bikes describes how the transformation from a mass production to a post-modern economy is being articulated in the trend-setting edges of Portland’s artisan production. The thesis of the book is laid out in a simple table that compares the relevant characteristics of mass production and artisan economies (Characteristics Table) and is examined in chapters that profile hundreds of local businesses.
The success of Portland’s artisan economy raises many questions. In a global mass market economy how can homegrown artisan products find a market and thrive? Is Portland a frontier in the transformation of urban economies or a cultural anomaly representing a romantic, populist turn away from the global? Is artisan production limited to a narrow range of expensive, high-end retail products or are we observing a broader shift from homogeneous, mass produced, mass marketed products to hand-crafted, limited production products that engender a more personal relationship between producer and patron? If the artisan economy is part of a seismic shift in how we do things, is this transformation grounded in a larger moral shift in values toward local, sustainable, self-reliant systems of making and using?
The Artisan Economy Initiative works collectively to examine these and other questions stimulated by the book and by a growing literature on the role of arts, culture and creativity in economic development. Through research, advocacy and outreach, we engage both scholarly and popular audiences in understanding and creating connections between local artisans, organizations which support them, policy makers and the public at large.
The purpose of this blog is to be a forum for a conversation for those interested in the work of artisans and the economic transformation they embody. While the focus of our research will emphasize Portland, we hope that this is only a starting point for comparative work by ourselves or others.
The AEI blog will offer short essays, real time access to our research work, as well as links to our publications in academic and popular forums. It will be an aggregator for research on artisan, cultural and creative economy literatures. It will serve as an archive for our raw data from interviews, surveys, archival information as well as our bi-weekly meetings.
We hope you find this forum useful and invite your comments.